1. So i went to Vienna to meet the Viking and drink Glühwein amidst the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Vienna is distinctly scuzzier than Munich. i walked from the train station to the u-bahn and immediately saw an unimaginably disgusting sight – two giant punks resting their feet on the seats opposite, shouting in Bosche and playing shitty punk music. They also had an amiable-looking dog. No one was sitting anywhere near them and the good citizens of Vienna were shooting them fearful glances. Perversely, i felt as if i was back in England; nostalgia pulled me to sit right next to them and grin at their dog. It’s not that i want to live in a city where young ruffians deliberately dismay the gentry, but after living in Munich (of almost Swiss respectability) i felt a certain pleasure in these villains & their dog. Besides, they seemed to me mostly harmless and far from the genuinely psychopathic monsters abounding in the sceptered isle.
2. Then on to the Viking. Exiled from Germany, he now practices heretical chemistry in nearby Slovakia. We immediately went to the Am Spittelberg Christmas market. Last year, Glühwein was 1.50 € and there were many strange stalls selling things like rose honey and jam and handmade leather artefacts. It’s now the usual 4 € for a Glühwein and there no interesting stalls. It has become standardized and in line with all the other Christmas markets, and so there was no reason to linger. Once again, the modern world has discovered and eliminated a niche of cheap Glühwein and human splendour.
We moved on, disgusted. But at least we chanced upon an excellent, cheap restaurant close by, the Kojote as i called it (“Gasthaus mit Wiener Küche” and “Zum hungrigen Kojoten”). It was a haven of normal humanness in the midst of all the chain restaurants and highly-priced & swanky hipster establishments. There was nothing at all polished or managerialized or machine-like about it.
Excellent Schnitzel for a tenner, plus you can smoke.
3. Being able to smoke indoors is one of the great and naturally brief & soon-to-be-destroyed advantages of Vienna. One waiter told me the EU will end this freedom in the next couple of years; a strange thing, since the militant non-smokers could easily find many non-smoking establishments, but in the name of managerialized standardization all must be the same, that is to say bland and unsatisfying (if it’s not specifically allowed, it is forbidden). For now, i enjoy my brief freedoms.
i bought some cigars for the Viking so he wouldn’t feel left out, but before turning to the Church he spent three decades as a fundamentalist Calvinist Protestant, so has no idea how to enjoy anything except gay Manga, let alone how to smoke.
4. We went to one swanky bar, not sure which one but it was expensive and we had to hand over our manly coats at the door. Good leather sofas and real wood. We got there for happy hour and tried their cocktails, while i smoked. Every cocktail was either 95% ice or presented in a tiny glass, about three tablespoons of real booze for 7 Euros. Good cocktails, if you don’t mind having to order 10 to get enough. They were playing shitty Christmas songs, like most places we frequented. Given the dark wooden tones, the leather sofas, the well-accomplished atmosphere, these jollily bland Christmas tunes were a horrific modernist false step. i asked if they had any Leonard Cohen and to my surprise they played some LC for the next 20 minutes, before reverting to the same dozen shitty seasonal jingles. Later, i wondered why it was so offensive to have to listen to Christmas garbage. i think it was because everything else (bar the miniscule cocktails) was so perfect, that this single jarring mistake ruined everything forever. The tighter the weave of decor and colour, the worse the blunder. We had to listen to a lot of seasonal bollocks, this being the only acceptable offering. We would have preferred this:
5. And then there is Vienna in general. It has, for me, far more literary history than any other city i know. i kept seeing street signs and thinking, That’s in a Thomas Bernhard novel or interview – Türkenschanzpark, Heldenplatz. This is a city where the waiters add up your bill on paper then do mental arithmetic, old school by god. In one cafe, the waitress was frowning her way through mine & the Viking’s account and i could see him twitching with the desire to apply his formidable Chemical Brain to the sums. The streets are a strange mix of modern & traditional. The traditional:
Glühwein in the centre, looking up:
There are, however, many modernist streets, for example the view out of my hotel:
6. We moved on to the Cafe Bräunerhof. i chose it purely because Thomas Bernhard used to read newspapers here. The clientele are mainly locals, as far as i could tell – it’s too far from the u-bahns (10 minutes’ walk), and too nondescript, to attract tourists. It hosts a mixture of normal-looking people and oddities. Here i photographed Theodore Dalrymple (in red) and a doomed poet (in black suit):
It hasn’t changed much since the days of Bernhard. Pleased to discover my heavy jumper vaguely resembles TB’s:
Breakfast on my last morning, alone. The furnishings seem largely unchanged since TB’s time; not tatty, but dated like some of the teahouses i remember from the 80s. It looks a good generation out of date and is the better for it. It has the look of a place removed from the modern world, from any overt agenda, from any kind of advertising. There is one photograph of Bernhard (above) on a wall but apart from that the cafe doesn’t try to make anything of its famed guest. The uniformed waiters, all in their 50s or 60s, greet regulars with hearty handshakes, and me with a look of surprised wariness, as if to say, A tourist has accidentally wandered in, how strange.
On my last morning i enjoyed breakfast alone:
Later i realised i was sitting next to Bernhard’s spot in the famous photograph.
i spent 4 hours there on my last morning, as i had no one to meet. It’s easy to spend hours; something about the place is semi-private; you can write, observe others, eat your eggs, and feel to be more or less protected from too much attention. It was encouraging to find at least one place which hasn’t succumbed to the modern world of managerialization and Southron filth.
7. i briefly pondered moving to Vienna but i like it because i don’t work there. If i lived in Vienna, apart from probably earning less than i do now (the Munich McLingua gave us all a pay rise and i’ve found it’s almost impossible to cobble together enough work from smaller, higher-paying schools) i would have to live in a ghetto and only see the places i work, most likely industrial parks by dual carriageways. Part of a city’s appeal comes from my not working there (the same with Kassel).
It was good to get away from my colleagues, who are all gossips and from whom i have to keep many things secret. In Munich, i only know people with normal jobs or English teachers who are terrified of being fired. The Viking, as a heretical Chemist, is immune to such troubles. He is apt to launch into Gay Manga shops or suddenly start drawing pornography in public. Here, he demanded pen and paper and without explanation launched into yet another Viking Atrocity.
The glorious result of 2 minutes’ frenzy:
And let that be a lesson to you.